Newsweek Cover on Billy Graham Shows Need for Media Diversity?

Getreligion.org has a collection of postings analyzing Jon Meacham's cover story on Billy Graham in Newsweek -- by Terry Mattingly, Daniel Pulliam, Douglas LeBlanc, and Mollie Ziegler. Mattingly began by being direct, that Meacham is writing to thump the tub for religious laxity and liberalism:

Newsweek Managing Editor Jon Meacham really doesn’t do ordinary journalism anymore. Instead, he writes cover stories that are doctrinal essays that seek to guide Americans toward a more mature, nuanced, educated, intelligent approach to religious faith. This would bring us closer to Meacham’s approach, of course.

This week’s “Pilgrim’s Progress” feature — yet another report about Billy Graham as a lion in winter — is an instant classic and a perfect example of why Meacham is must reading for anyone striving to understand what is happening on the left side of American Evangelicalism. Meacham is the voice crying in the wilderness, “Repent! Repent of your doctrinal absolutes! Repent and embrace mystery and humility! Like me!”

Ziegler even called him the ultimate Episcopalian, and then explained how Meacham proves the major media need more diversity on religion:

it took me awhile to get used to Meacham’s style, in which he denigrates biblical literalism, shares his own opinion by quoting other people, and writes in a breezy, nonjournalistic style. He’s basically the ultimate Episcopalian. He understands Christian doctrine but just wants everyone to get along already. So he pushes Christianity’s inclusivity over its exclusivity.

I enjoy Meacham. When I read him, I see the dominance of his personal style and views. I actually think the pieces are better for it. But man if that doesn’t prove [Mattingly's] point about the need for newsroom diversity.

We tend to look at bias or impartiality when it comes to individual stories. But my experience in the newsroom is that the bias is hidden much more deeply. It’s all about choosing which stories to write and how the story is reported. Think about how a writer like Meacham — who frequently writes against literalism — responds to Graham’s statements. Think about how a reporter who doesn’t believe in God might respond to the statements. Think about how a reporter who believes the Bible is the literal, nonfigurative Word of God might respond. I think most reporters would ask different sets of follow-up questions based on their given biases, education and perspective.

This is why newsrooms today are in such danger. They are filled with people with narrow fields of experience and education. And it shows in the paucity and weakness of coverage in many fields, religion being prime among them.

What's left out of this picture is that Meacham replaced long-time Newsweek religion specialist Kenneth Woodward, who was one of the more objective and knowledgeable religion reporters in the national media -- and as these authors note, Meacham is conducting a crusade in gospel-schmospel lukewarmness rather than attempting anything close to objectivity.

Tim Graham
Tim Graham
Tim Graham is Executive Editor of NewsBusters and is the Media Research Center’s Director of Media Analysis